Dancing before God

Today’s reading is all about dancing, which leads us inevitably to the old question, What if the hokey pokey is really what it’s all about? Put your whole self in, just like David, and shake it all about—or, as the text says, dance with all your might. That’s what it’s all about.


The hokey pokey is likely one of the first dances that many of us learned. What other occasions for dancing come to mind? [Recital at age 3, The Twist, The Hustle, The Moonwalk, prom, weddings, etc.] Dancing generally occurs at joyful, social, life-affirming events.


David and all of Israel have been dealing with battles and killings and mayhem, but they stop in order to move the Ark of God up to Jerusalem, the new city of David. They are celebrating the unification of Israel and Judah. They are celebrating that God chooses David to be the king of the people.


In these days we see a lot that makes us sag in body and spirit. We have plenty of battles and mayhem of our own. Many of the justice issues we have worked for are being stripped away: immigrant families being torn apart, a shift in the Supreme Court that could spell trouble for many years, national parks being opened up for drilling, health care and food funds being cut, hateful behavior being condoned as the new normal. Can you feel your body react as I say these words? It is easy to think that all is doom and gloom.


So once in a while, without denying the things that are going awry, it is our spiritual discipline to stop and give thanks for all that is going right. As long as we have life and breath, our journey is not complete, our work for God’s realm is not finished. Therefore we get to stop and have a parade from time to time, throw a party, bring out the instruments, dance with all our might, as David did. We get to celebrate.


What are you grateful for? What is going right in your life or in the world right now? [Input: new job, new grandbaby, extra income, etc.] Hallelujah!


If we don’t celebrate from time to time, we forget that there are things worth celebrating. We forget that sometimes we win. Sometimes things go right.


Perhaps you saw the front page story in today’s paper about an immigrant mother and her six-year-old son being reunited. Hallelujah—throw a party! Tomorrow is soon enough to take up the fight again for immigrant rights. But this one story has taken a turn for the better.


Many of us care about environmental issues, and we may be tempted to despair from time to time. This is why it’s important to celebrate when things go right—so we remember and notice. When’s the last time you put leaded gas in your car? Or sat in a restaurant full of cigarette smoke? Maybe you’ve forgotten, but in 2011 there were proposals for six—count ‘em, six—coal export terminals spread out over Washington and Oregon. To date, not one has been approved or built, and only one still even has a chance of happening. In the meantime, the coal industry has hit some major roadblocks. We are powering past coal. Hallelujah! Stop and celebrate, have a parade, sing some songs of gratitude and praise, throw yourself into the dance. Tomorrow is soon enough to speak out against the liquefied natural gas plant that PSE wants to build in Tacoma. For right now—no coal export terminals. Hooray!


The spiritual discipline of practicing gratitude is a part of the spiritual discipline of practicing hope. It is a way of remembering that our God is an awesome God. That we do what we can to build a better world and then turn the rest over to God. That God makes a way out of no way, and sometimes that way is even a parade.


Dance with all your might. Put your whole body in, just like in the hokey pokey. Sing your song. Dance your dance. Make your music. Know what it is every day to be a spirit traveling in your particular body. Every day can be a gift.


Practice gratitude every day. Hey look, I’ve been given another day in which to dance my dance with all my might for God—Hallelujah! Hey look, there are apples on the trees, flowers in the window. Hallelujah! Hey look, my car or the bus take me where I want to go. Hallelujah! Hey look, I get to hang out with people I love, or be of service to people I will come to love. Hallelujah! My life has meaning and is often filled with good things.


The 2017 documentary Step is about the members of an African-American step dance team at a girls’ high school in Baltimore. These team members are coming from poverty, homes where there may not be any food in the refrigerator, where bills are piling up and jobs—when there are jobs—pay very little. But when these girls show up for step practice, they come alive. There are competitions, costumes, synchronized movements. It’s demanding, and it’s all about teamwork. These girls live for this dance team. It gives them hope, affirmation, stretches them, challenges them. The high school principal, the college counselor, the step team coach, the girls themselves, and the moms all work as a team to get these girls through high school with a diploma and on to college. It’s not easy. But when you see that team perform, they just come alive. They are celebrating being who they are, where they are, working together, praising through their bodies.


Some of us look at this very athletic dancing and we say, “My body can’t do that anymore.” Whether you can put your whole body in or just your hand or your foot, do it. Dance! Dancing is a sign of embodiment, of being a spirit in a living flesh-and-blood body. Let us give thanks for our bodies, just as they are.


Notice the justice and inclusiveness of David’s celebration: burnt offerings, offerings of well-being—and then he provides food for everyone, men and women alike, the whole nation of Israel. Everyone gets to go home with a doggy bag. Justice and peace come not by cutting funds and stripping programs from those who need them the most, but by making sure that everyone—everyone—is invited to the dance and has a way to get there and be fed.


Likewise, we don’t build a church by telling all our friends and neighbors they ought to come or God will send them to hell. Threats and guilt, sin and suffering are not conducive to attracting people. Come to our church: we’ll make you feel like dirt! No: spread the word that they are invited to the party, invited to the dance, and there will be food. A cake of bread, a portion of meat, a cake of raisins. Maybe even ice cream.


What in our faith journey makes our hearts sing and our feet dance? What so surges in our spirit that we are bursting with it? And how do we share that with joy?


Notice that all the music in today’s service is about dancing. You can sing from your seat, if that works for you. Or you are also invited to get out in the aisles, swing your partner, waltz, march, clap, make some noise! We are beloved creatures of God, spirits embodied in these fabulous flesh-and-blood bodies. Hallelujah!


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